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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 23, 2003

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New York, New York

8:05 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. The President is having his usual briefing on board Air Force One, on our way to New York. The President looks forward to going to the United Nations and speaking to the General Assembly later this morning, where, as you're aware, the President will talk about the importance of working together to make the world a safer and better place; the need for us to act and work together to address the important challenges facing the world, from confronting the spread of weapons of mass destruction to supporting our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to addressing the humanitarian crises, such as AIDS and famine, and the exploitation of human beings, particularly when it comes to the sex trade.

Let me run through the President's day, beyond the remarks. The remarks are at 10:30 a.m. this morning. We'll try -- we're working to get the speech out about 30 minutes ahead of time. The other meetings, just to recap, the President, when we get there, will meet with the General Assembly President. Then he will meet with the Secretary General. Then he makes remarks, as I said, at 10:30 a.m.

Following that, the President has his bilateral meetings with the President of Spain, the President of France. He will participate in the United States Secretary Generals Luncheon. Then he has a meeting with the President of Indonesia. Then he has a bilateral meeting with the King of Morocco. And then a meeting with the President of the Afghan Transitional Authority, President Karzai. And then he participates in the United States reception for the U.N. later this evening.

And with that, I'll just jump right into questions.

Q Scott, Ahmed Challabi says that in an interview now that he wants power handed over, sovereignty handed over to the Governing Council faster than the United States has been prepared. How is the President going to take into account that position?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the President will talk about some of this in his remarks later this morning, in terms of our shared goal. We have a shared goal to transfer responsibility and authority to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible, but it must be done in an orderly fashion and we must have a process that works so that we achieve a sovereign, prosperous and democratic Iraq, and one that is a lasting process. And we have a shared goal of having a government of, by and for the Iraqi people. And, certainly, the United Nations has a vital role to play in that effort, as well. They can play a vital role helping with the constitutional process and helping with elections. But the -- we must have a process that works and that is lasting.

Q Is he willing to consider Challabi's suggestion of transferring at least partial authority over, some ministries, to the Governing Council right away?

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean, "transferring" --

Q Challabi suggested in the interview that there be a partial transfer of authority for the -- the security ministries and, I think, finance ministry, to the Governing Council.

MR. McCLELLAN: As you know, the Governing Council is working closely with the Coalition Provisional Authority, and that's the process that was set up so that we can reach our shared objective of a free, a sovereign, prosperous and democratic Iraq as quickly as possible.

The President enjoyed meeting with two of the ministers yesterday, here in Washington, D.C. And those ministers stressed the importance of the United States and the coalition finishing the job in Iraq. And the President is committed to seeing this through, to realize an Iraq that is governed of, by and for the Iraqi people.

Q Scott, this is a forum where he's got one bilateral meeting after another. What are the prospects of this yielding some sort of deal, an agreement on a resolution, either when he comes home tomorrow or in the near-term?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, keep in mind where we are in terms of the process. We had some initial discussions with members of the Security Council, there have been some positive discussions. I think everybody is committed to the overall goal of transferring responsibility to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible; and the importance of the U.N. playing a vital role in our efforts, which they have been and they will continue to be.

We heard some -- we got some response from some of the countries and we're talking amongst ourselves to address some of the issues that were raised by others. And we will continue to talk with countries about moving forward on a resolution, and we will be going back to these countries with -- after we have addressed some of those issues that they raised, and taking those into account.

Q I'd like to ask you quickly, too, about a poll in USA Today that shows the President's approval rating at the lowest point of his presidency. What's going on?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, there are a going to be a lot of polls between now and November. The American people want a leader who acts decisively to meet our highest priorities. And that's exactly what the President is doing. The President is leading and acting decisively to make America more secure, to make America more prosperous and to spread compassion and the greatness of America throughout the country and the world.

And, you know, it's not uncommon to see this at this point in an administration.

Q What's the harm, Scott, from the administration's point of view, of immediately turning over the work that Ambassador Bremer is doing to a broader U.N. coalition, like, soon? I mean, sooner rather than later. What's the drawback to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first off, when you talk about the United Nations you have to go back and see what the Secretary General and what the United Nations has said, and what they -- what role they want to play. I think that, again, the United Nations has played a vital role, such a vital role that their headquarters was attacked by those who fear progress, those who fear a democratic and prosperous Iraq in the heart of the Middle East, an area that has been a breeding ground for terrorism. Because a free, prosperous and democratic Iraq will help bring stability and peace to a very important region in the world and help us in the war on terrorism. This is the central front in the war on terrorism now.

Q But why not have them step in for Ambassador Bremer now? I mean, what -- is there a problem in doing that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, they have been -- Sergio de Mello was working very closely with Ambassador Bremer, and we want the U.N. to continue to work closely with us. This is a coalition-led effort, but we have a shared goal to transfer responsibility as quickly as possible. The process needs to be orderly, it needs to be set up to where it will be more work and where it will be lasting, where we will have a lasting peace and democracy in Iraq.

Q Scott, the U.N. is --

Q Excuse me. Scott, you said the American people want a leader, but that doesn't speak to why the poll is at its lowest point in this presidency.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said I'm sure there will be a number of polls between now and next November. The President is providing strong leadership and enacting decisively to meet our highest priorities -- that's winning the war on terrorism and strengthening our economy and spreading compassion, helping those in need. And he will continue to do that.

The American people want someone who is going to provide strong leadership and meet our highest priorities. And that's exactly what he's doing. But, you know, it's not like this is something that's not to be expected at this point in an administration, if you look back over the previous administrations.

Q I have a scheduling question for you. Tomorrow's meeting with the COs of finance and insurance companies, what's that about?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's continuing to talk to leaders about the economy. And the President -- it's one of the President's highest priority is strengthening our economy and create an environment for job creation. So this is the ongoing --

Q So is this --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is ongoing meetings to talk about that important priority.

Q Scott, Kofi Annan today is saying that the U.N. now must work to ensure that no nation acts unilaterally, preemptively against another nation. Is that incompatible with the President's determination to take on terror where he finds it, to strike first --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, that the President has worked to reach out to other countries to act with us to -- in fact, let me go back a little bit. In his remarks today he'll talk about how we have a shared commitment to the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations, which are the defense of our collective security and the advance of human rights. And we must -- and the only way to address those issues is for us to work together. The President went to the United Nations last year and talked about the importance of us working together to confront a very real threat in Iraq.

And the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1441 after the President went to the United Nations and called on the United Nations to take this threat seriously. And 1441 spelled out serious consequences if there was a failure to comply after all these resolutions and all these years. And we saw what those consequences were for the regime failing to come clean about its weapons of mass destructions and weapons of mass destruction program.

Q He doesn't see Annan's remarks as a rebuke in any way?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we -- one other point, in terms of the President working in a multilateral way, there's a number of multilateral successes that you can look at that the President has provided leadership to address. From North Korea to Iran, we are making important progress in a multilateral way. We have a multilateral approach now where five countries have come together and told North Korea, you must end your nuclear weapons program once and for all.

We have the international community calling on Iran to comply with the IAEA and open up to more intensive inspections. Several months ago, that was not the case. It was simply the United States. So the President is providing leadership and calling on the world to act together to address these challenges we face.

Q When should we expect to have an opportunity to ask the President questions today? Which pool?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Do you know which pool will have a shot at the President, in terms of --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he'll be making his remarks today. We'll try as we -- try to do the same as last year, where you'll have some senior administration officials available to give some readouts of various meetings, and so forth.

Q So no questions to the President today?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's always a possibility.

Q I'd be grateful if you'd advocate --

Q Those readouts will be in the filing center, or to the pool?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q The readouts from the senior administration officials, to the pool or the filing center?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, to the best of our ability, we'll try to get people to the filing center. If we can't, we'll try to get the people to the pool.

Q So it's not set yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, some of this in terms of you have to be a little bit flexible with all the meetings going on and the administration officials that are there. But we're going to do our best to make sure we get you readouts of various meetings.

Q I had one final question I wanted to ask you.

MR. McCLELLAN: I said, thank you.

Q I wanted to ask you one final question about Chirac and the President. What's the -- can you describe what their personal relationship is like?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they have met several times previously. I think the President will continue to emphasize exactly what I've been saying here today, that there are a lot of important challenges that we must address, and we must work together to address those challenges.

But there may be differences of opinion about how to address some of the issues, and we're always willing to listen. But it's important that we act and that we work together when it comes to meeting these global challenges. And that's a message the President will be taking to all the leaders he's meeting with.

All right, thanks.

Q Will he speak with Challabi tonight of the reception?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try to keep you posted if there's anything.

END 8:20 A.M. EDT

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